Don’t Forget to Write: 54 Enthralling and Effective Writing Lessons for Students 6-18 (826 Valencia, 224 pages, $25.00)
826 Valencia provides drop-in tutoring centers, writing workshops, and support for teaching writing in local schools nationwide. Don’t Forget to Write gathers some of the best of what’s been taught, often by “real” writers—the published, recognizable, New York Times Book Review sort. Many of them—Sarah Vowell, Dave Eggers, Jon Scieszka (of Stinky Cheese Man and Math Curse fame), Mark O’Donnell (Hairspray playwright)—have contributed writing lessons to Don’t Forget to Write, along with other thoughtful and competent writing teachers.
826 Valencia runs its programs outside of schools, so some of the inevitable constraints and imperatives of school life call for viewing many of its 54 elementary, middle, and high school level writing exercises, lessons, and units as points of innovation and inspiration for your own curriculum planning rather than literal takeaways. Lessons include songs, plays, humor, travel, writing for animals, poetry, autobiography, mystery and comic-book writing and employ irreverence, humor and creativity to reduce anxiety and practice skills. Many of these lessons provide examples of student work. Dave Eggers’ detailed and thoughtful high school unit on details, character and setting is clearly the result of repeated teaching, fine-tuning, and practice. Sarah Vowell’s lesson on revision isn’t a step-by-step lesson but it emphasizes the powerful and liberating idea that each of us owns our own words and that writing is ours to revisit and transform. J. Ryan Stradal and Bob Jury’s elementary-level unit “If I Were a King or Queen” is a satisfying, substantial get-cracking set of assignments, apt for interdisciplinary work, loaded with specific prompts, and well-suited to the grandiose desires of eight-to-eleven year olds.
The appendix includes rubrics demonstrating how lesson plans align to National Council of Teachers of English and International Reading Association standards, evaluation rubrics, student self-assessment checklists, and marked-up proofs from Michael Chabon and other writers, presented as testament that writing does not just appear. It evolves. Keep Don’t Forget to Write handy as you evolve your own curriculum.